The bus drove me and other volunteers through a calm and quiet Arlington National Cemetery. Only a few security guards and early-morning joggers popped up on the serene Monday morning scene. The humidity felt like it was 100 percent even though it was only 7 a.m.
Arlington National Cemetery spreads over more than 624 acres of sacred land. Luckily, on the morning of July 20, more than 400 landscape professionals and volunteers donated their time and equipment to beautify the cemetery’s grounds. This year marked the 19th annual Day of Service, a massive community service project initiated and coordinated by the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Preparation for the special day began long before that Monday morning. Organizing took months, equipment arrived two to three days in advance and site checkups were conducted the day before.
Landscape professionals and their family members from across the United States plan time away from their homes and businesses to participate in the event. It was a first experience for me in many ways. I’ve been to Washington, D.C., three other times, but this was my first visit as a volunteer “landscape professional.”
The turf team I was assigned to was responsible for Section 1 at the Cemetery. Jason Pingstock of Ecolawn Inc., based in northern Ohio, served as team leader. We had three pallets of lime bags to go through for our section of about 10 acres. The lime bags were about 40 pounds each. My knowledge of lime and gypsum was minimal. And my arm strength could be better.
I worked with Jason to slice open the bags of lime and load the spreaders while six other crewmembers pushed the spreaders. Three pallets of lime and less than two hours later, we were finished before 10:30 a.m.
We were then assigned to another section with a crew who needed additional help and equipment. It wasn’t until we arrived that the crew said they were without equipment the whole time. They had a large bag of gypsum and buckets to load it into the spreaders.
Not long after we arrived, a funeral procession passed our work area. We cleared the road, turned off the machines, took off our hats and stood to respect the family. The procession passed with military members, a somber brass band and a horse-drawn carriage taking the fallen soldier to the final resting place in another section of the cemetery.
Multiple ceremonies happen in the cemetery everyday — whether they’re for fallen soldiers during active duty or a veteran from a past war.
The following day, I was up early again, only this time in dress clothes to meet elected officials and their office staff on Capitol Hill for NALP’s Legislative Day on the Hill.
I live and work in the Cleveland area and have lived in Ohio my whole life, so I decided to join the Ohio Landscape Association for their appointments with legislators. Sandy Munley, the executive director of OLA, set up the meetings. We met with staff from the offices of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and Senator Rob Portman. She had also arranged appointments based on the location of other landscape contractor’s who were in our group. We stopped in four representatives’ offices for appointments and then after lunch, found additional offices to stop in and see if anyone was available.
I knew H-2B was an important issue for the industry, but hearing the business owners explain how it affects them and their companies made me better understand their plights. Some mentioned fighting the H-2B issue since 2000.
Right now, there is only an H-2B bill in appropriations at the time of our visit, which will be a temporary one-year fix to the problems the landscape industry is having.
I know our country gets frustrated with politics, but when you are there on Capitol Hill, it feels like things are changing and happening. Just by explaining your viewpoints to legislators who can help you, it makes a difference and, if you are optimistic like me, you can leave Washington D.C., feeling powerful and encouraged.
I left for home with a more than just a few blisters on my fingers. I left with new industry friends and extra appreciation for our military, government and national monuments.
Thank you to all of the welcoming people in this industry, I am learning so much.